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Posts Tagged ‘High-Speed Rail’

If reports today from the St. Petersburg Times are true, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will not back down in his decision to turn down federal funding for the high-speed rail project in Florida. If he does that, he’ll be throwing away thousands of jobs, millions in money the state has already spent on the project, the will of the voters who favor the project, and decades of hard work in bringing Florida forward in what is a desperately needed new mode of transportation for its citizens.

All that Rick Scott has used to base his decision on throwing it all out the window is one study. Unlike his campaign promises, he didn’t wait for a study from the Florida Department of Transportation to make his decision. Nope. Instead he relied on a “study” from the Reason Foundation, which has ties to none other than David H. Koch.

Yes, that’s the same David H. Koch that another Governor thought he was talking to on the phone as reported yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Walker all but showed that it is the Koch’s who are behind the Gov.’s push to crush the unions in that state.

Yes, the same Gov. Walker who Rick Scott spoke to yesterday on the phone, who Scott said was having a “tough” time right now in his maneuvers to strip away collective bargaining powers from the unions there. Scott also spoke of the upcoming meeting of the Republican Governors Association this weekend where, I’m sure, more of the strategy in what appears to be an orchestrated plan against the middle class in this country by the Republicans and their backers, like Koch Industries, will be on the agenda.

It’s becoming more clear every day that while people may have thought they were voting for Republicans who had their best interests at heart, they were really electing corporate interests who couldn’t care less about them and are pulling all the strings. Many of the Republicans in power right now clearly have no idea how to govern. But that doesn’t matter to these corporations because they don’t either. They are interested in protecting only one thing: their bottom line. That’s why those voters are being sold out. The corporate interests like Koch Industries are using their investment in Republicans in order to do away with jobs, human rights, regulations, and any number of other things.

One of their biggest “gets” was apparently Gov. Rick Scott, who told us he wanted to run Florida like a business. Those voters may have thought this meant prosperity for the state of Florida and its residents, and he’s still telling them that while he slowly chips away and sells Florida to the highest bidder. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that’s more than apparent with the rejection of high-speed rail.

But at least his corporate backers are happy, and that’s all that matters here in Florida, Inc.

Right?

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It was on his official schedule last night, but today it’s apparently been deleted from his website. Gov. Rick Scott will reportedly be chatting it up with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker today on the phone from 5:15 – 5:45 p.m. (Gosh, I wonder if either of them will try to verify that they’re actually talking to the “real” Gov. first? That might be a wise idea.) Gosh, I wonder what they’ll talk about? Will one of the “real” Koch brothers be on the line with them? After all, the Koch’s do have ties to Gov. Scott and his high-speed rail sabotage plan, who knows what else they might be up to?

Yesterday Gov. Scott said this about unions and collective bargaining:

“My belief is as long as people know what they’re doing, collective bargaining is fine,” Scott said in an interview with Tallahassee’s WFLA FM radio station.

Sure, whatever. Of course if you know anything about Gov. Scott, you can take your chances that he means it, but I for one don’t buy it. Especially when the Florida Legislature is already working on the unions.

Sen. John Thrasher, former state GOP chairman, looks like he has filed a bill (SB830) to starve unions like the Florida Education Association, SEIU, AFL-CIO, firefighters, police unions or AFSCME by banning the Democratic-leaning organizations from using salary deductions for political purposes. The legislation also says any “public employer may not deduct or collect” union dues, etc. Lastly, it says that any public employee who didn’t specifically authorize the use of his money could be entitled to a partial refund.

The bill doesn’t seem to go as far as Wisconsin’s by ending collective bargaining rights in Florida, though in a right-to-work state there’s only so much union bargaining that can take place. Still, the language about union dues sure looks like it’s right out of the playbook of the tea party and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (who incidentally is not a high-speed rail fan, either).

Gov. Walker said this about high-speed rail funds in his state last Nov.:

Governor-Elect Scott Walker today released the following statement on high-speed rail:

“Since learning about the state’s agreement with the federal government we have been exploring all legal options to stop the train from moving forward, and we believe this is a step in the right direction.  We are continuing to work with members of congress on redirecting this money to fixing our crumbling roads and bridges.”

Why, that sounds distinctly familiar. That’s kind of what Gov. Scott was expecting to do. But he can’t, because the money must be used toward the high-speed rail project, or it goes elsewhere, and there’s a lot of other states with their hands out just waiting. Scott has until Friday to make a decision.

Meanwhile, back in Tallahassee, now “nationally famous so-called fiscal hero” (we know he is because the media tells us so!) Marco Rubio, the former Tea Party darling, turned U.S. Senator who now shuns Tea Bagger voters who put him in office (but not the Tea Party corporate funders of course), came back to Florida yesterday to talk money with the Florida House. He reportedly spoke with no notes, and no teleprompter, but he really didn’t need to since that speech is burned into his memory. He gives the same one all the time. All he needs is someone to pull his string and he’s off!

“The math is straightforward. The federal government this year, in order to operate, will have to borrow one-and-a-half trillion dollars. – trillion dollars,” Rubio said. “Medicare and Social Security as they currently are structured, is unsustainable,” he said to applause. “They will bankrupt themselves and ultimately bankrupt our country.”

But despite his calls for bipartisan solutions, Rubio gave no specifics and offered standard party-line fare to reduce spending and not raise taxes.

“Apart from all the ideological rhetoric,” he said, “an increase in taxes will destroy the ability of our economy to grow, which will mean less revenue to government. It’s a vicious cycle. They’re starting to doubt about our ability to pay our debt back”

Of course, he gives no specific ideas, but then he never does.

“What I fear most of all is that we have a political process in Washington that is frozen,” he said. “The White House knows this. The congressional leadership knows this. But no one wants to go first because they don’t want to get beaten up about it….

“If we don’t figure this out, none of these politics and elections are going to matter anyway because this country will decline so rapidly that you won’t even recognize it by 20 or 30 years. It’s not going to be a third world country. But it’s not going to be exceptional or unique. Our decline is not inevitable.”

You don’t have to be psychic to see why he was giving this speech, or where he was going with it, but chances are Social Security and Medicare are on Rubio’s mind as well as on the table, but Rubio doesn’t want to “go there first” anymore than he claims other political “chickens” do either, so he didn’t say the words. Wink, wink.
Also from the same article was this:
Prior to his speech, Rubio met privately with Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, all of whom are Republicans. Rubio said he discussed Panamanian and Colombian free-trade issues with Scott and discussed Bondi’s efforts to fight so-called “fake cocaine” sold under the guise as bath salts.
How very secretive of them. Gosh, do you suppose they talked about unions too, along with talking points dolled out by the Koch brothers, and some on health care from the National Federation Of Independent Business, the lobbying group helping to foot the bill for Florida AG Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, AND who gave generously to Bondi’s campaign as well last year and endorsed her?

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told a state House committee this month that most of the rest is being covered by the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that opposes the law because of what it considers unconstitutional costs and regulations on firms and people.

“They have dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to the lawsuit,” Bondi said Feb. 10. “We’re thrilled, because that’s saving our state money. That’s saving the 25 other states money as well.”

Did they discuss these issues along with other ways to bleed Floridians in addition to Gov. Scott’s already draconian budget plans? Maybe they did discuss such things, maybe not. But we’ll never know, because they’ve taken up Gov. Scott’s habit of meeting secretly with only Republicans. The rest of us are just not privy to their plans until it’s too late.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during this afternoon’s phone call between Gov. Scott Walker and Rick Scott. If they’re really who they say they are.
Hello?……Hello?

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Rick Scott seemed to think he was running against President Obama rather than Alex Sink in his run for Governor last year, and he still manages to work in his criticism of the President’s policies every chance he gets. Just yesterday it was “ObamaRail” and the “ObamaTrain” that he rejected when he threw Floridians, $2.4 billion dollars and 23,000 jobs under the train bus.

He also has a great deal of interest in repealing the Affordable Care Act, and recently said he would be spending a lot of time in Washington. For what reason? Well, he said it was to make sure Florida gets its fair share.” But wouldn’t the money for the high-speed rail project qualify as “getting our fair share?” Wouldn’t the project also create a few of those “700,000” jobs Scott promised to Floridians before they voted? Sure it would. But Scott just trashed a nice chunk of our “fair share.” His reasoning is reckless spending and all the other nonsense talking points he and many of the Republicans in the state who now despise him along with the rest of us use all the time.

Maybe there’s a reason he doesn’t really seem to give a flying fig about Florida. Maybe his ego is so overblown that he has bigger ambitions. Maybe he’s just using Florida and his policies to prove himself to the Tea Baggers he spends all of his time with.

Maybe it seems like he’s still running against President Obama, because he actually plans to run against Obama in 2012. The thought has occurred to me before, but it just seemed crazy and so ridiculously far-fetched. Of course Scott seems to thrive on failed, far-fetched ideas and he does seem to have a rather large ego. I guess now see I’m not the only one who noticed it.

But hey, it’s not like we haven’t had failed Governors as national candidates before. It also wouldn’t be the first time an elected official tried to convince the country he was not what he “appeared” to be:

“I am not a crook!”

If so, well, good luck with that!

 

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Derailed

I always thought that Rick Scott would manage to destroy Florida by the end of his term, but I was wrong. At the rate he’s going he’ll destroy it LONG before then.

In just under two months Scott has taken command of a state with Titanic potential, and actively sought out an iceberg to steer it into. Much like the Titanic, yesterday he hit the big one. Unlike Scott, at least the ship builders Harland and Wolff had a vision to try to build a bold new mode of transportation. But Rick Scott? His only vision at this point appears to be seeking revenge against the nation’s first black President (or as Scott refers to them, one of “those people.”) who dared to tackle another industry in dire need of reform: health care. We all know about Rick Scott’s experience with that, where he left behind the company he owned and ran to make the history books in the subject of Medicare fraud. Perhaps his eyes are on a bigger prize now as a one man death panel who steers patients to private clinics, like his current company, Solantic. But that’s an issue for another day.

Rick Scott managed to get elected somehow, in spite of his past business background. Perhaps people in Florida were so desperate or naive that they actually bought what he was selling. I would imagine that even his die-hard supporters have a touch of voters remorse. The GOP certainly has buyers remorse after groveling at Scott’s feet when he defeated their preferred candidate, Bill McCollum. He not only flipped off voters, maybe a couple corporate donors, and his own party, he even seems confused about his own policies with yesterday’s rejection of high-speed rail. That decision has left many scratching their heads, and may have just convinced even the former doubters that he has become the Master Of Disaster for Florida. The only groups he seems to have catered to is that small minority of ignorant Tea Partiers who probably have trouble balancing their own bank accounts and think that fairies, not taxes, fill the potholes that are big enough for them to drive their pickup trucks through. (They’ll figure it out soon enough when the next hurricane comes along and they’re forced to rely on the former disaster management crew from Wal-Mart. But again, another issue for another day.)

The other group that’s happy about Scott’s decision? Why that would be a libertarian “think tank,” the Reason Foundation, which wrote the so-called report Scott relied on to base his decision on rather than an upcoming study from the Florida Department of Transportation he claimed to be waiting for. Counted among the he Reason Foundation’s Board of Trustees is none other than David H. Koch, of Koch Industries, and yes, one more rather large can of worms.

For someone who claims to be an outsider, well, sort of. He’s an outsider to reality. He wants to run Florida like a business? Sure, a bad one, but then look at his track record. His campaign promises? Well, you’re a sucker if you believed them.

The high-speed rail project was a good business decision that was a sorely needed “gift” to Florida, where traffic and gridlock have been a growing problem for decades. I can vouch for at least the last 30 years, but ask those who have dealt with it even longer. Of course for someone who travels by private jet as Scott does, that’s hardly a problem for him. As for the rest of us, well we can just keep on sucking exhaust fumes while we sit in traffic and spend hours moving through parking lots like I4 where it takes a large chunk out of your day to travel to a place that should only take an hour or two. Mind you, this is Florida, not the New York area or even California. We’re talking say  Tampa to Orlando.

The “gift” Florida got from the high-speed rail project brought us $2.4 billion in federal funds. The project would have created more than 23,000 jobs, some of which have already begun, where we have a 20 percent unemployment rate. Private businesses were lining up for bids on the project, bids that will never materialize if Scott gets his way. However, since the gift came from President Obama, well, Florida will just have to go without all that, even though Scott promised to create 700,000 jobs (never mind the 8700 jobs that he cut last week) and he claimed Florida would become a major attraction to the private sector and therefore prosperity for every resident. Not only has Scott doomed high-speed rail, we’re probably doomed form any other companies and jobs that may have come to Florida. People who actually know how to run a business, unlike Gov. Dictator, would probably view Florida as a really bad risk for investment as long as the Governor is a fickle operator who could pull the plug at any given moment as he did with the rail project. Of course, that’s over and above the problem of trusting a man whose first company became a textbook case on Medicare fraud.

Two days ago Scott went on (what else?) FOX-GOP-TV to proclaim “I know what needs to happen in Florida,” and “I know what our citizens need.” He was talking about one of his other “projects,” Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He also blasted the “evil demon” stimulus bill, which he claims will cause dependency. (Today Scoot meets with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg over the problems of oil spill claims. Perhaps he’ll tell Feinberg  to withhold claims altogether so those whose businesses were hurt by the oil gusher don’t become too dependent on any relief?)

Does Scott “know what Florida needs? No. In fact he has proven he has absolutely no clue. While he turned down that $2.4 billion for high-speed rail, he said that he “believes Florida is better served by investments in ports, highways and other infrastructure to create long-term jobs.” What the clueless Governor fails to grasp is the not so little detail of how that $2.4 billion can be spent. One might ask Scott what part of the words “high-speed rail funds” he doesn’t understand, because the concept seems to have him stumped.

If the money isn’t used for high-speed rail as intended, Florida loses that money. In fact if Scott had bothered to study up on it, he would know that we got some of those funds because another clueless Governor turned them down as well. No, Scott may think he can use those funds any way he wants, perhaps even on himself or maybe use it for his wife’s Governor’s mansion redecorating fund for all we know. That money will now go elsewhere if Scott doesn’t change his mind. There’s a reason why, barely minutes after the news of Scott’s stupidity broke, states like California and New York were already scrambling for the funds as if billions of dollars had just descended from the heavens at their feet. High-speed rail is popular and a good thing. What happened to the Governor who recently said “he would be spending a great deal of time in Washington making sure Florida gets its fair share?” So far he’s taken our fair share and thrown it back in President Obama’s face.

As I write, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and yes, even Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, who Scott managed to flip off as well yesterday are scrambling to do damage control with an end run around the decision.

There’s even talk of recall. Yesterday Representative Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) filed legislation to permit the recall of state officials. You can read and track those bills: HJR785 here, and HB787 here. The bills may offer a glimmer of hope, considering the disastrous first couple of months of Scott’s “Dictator-like” rule where he operates away from the press but in front of Tea Baggers, the only choir he preaches to.

Scott is Mr. Fiscal when it comes to the serious needs of the homeless, the elderly, the mentally ill. State workers, the unemployed, teachers, students, veterans, and countless others I’ve not listed here will get no relief from Scott. When it comes to these things, he wants to cut, cut, cut. When it comes to lavish Inaugural festivities made possible with hefty donations from private businesses of course, well that’s another story. I’m sure there’s more than a donor or two who now wish they had that money back. But they’ll just have to get in line with the rest of us.

In just a few short weeks Scott has managed to turn the words “all aboard” into derailed plans for prosperity in the future, and he’s just getting warmed up. He’s moving on to several new icebergs, and if things don’t change pretty soon, we’ll all be going down with the ship.

Because uprooting and moving out-of-state is an unacceptable and pretty drastic alternative as a life-raft, for those who can still afford one.

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ARIZONA SHOOTINGS UPDATE:

Good News For Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Doctors at Tucson’s University Medical Center have removed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords from a ventilator, and she is breathing on her own. Doctors haven’t said anything about whether Rep. Giffords can speak.

Despite Shootings, Tucson Gun Show Goes On

New York Times Profile Of Jared L. Loughner

FLORIDA NEWS:

More Guns! Less Restrictions!

In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, and another at Florida State University last week where a drunk student accidentally killed his girlfriend’s sister with an AK-47, Florida lawmakers are about to propose changes in firearm restrictions. “They want more people to have the right to carry them in the open and fewer government restrictions.” What could possibly go wrong….?

Bob Graham Urges Gov. Rick Scott To Demand Oil Drilling Safety Reforms

Cuba is preparing to drill the wells off its north coast, using a Russian oil drilling firm “which frankly does not have a world standard safety record,” Graham told the Economic Club of Florida.

Tampa International Airport Eligible For Flights To Cuba

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Tampa International Airport will be eligible to restore direct flights to Cuba, fulfilling a longstanding goal of local Cuban Americans forced to rely on Miami’s airport because of federal restrictions.

Republican and darling of the Tea Party, Sen. Marco Rubio, opposes the new changes.

Planner Says It Would Be A Mistake For Gov. Rick Scott Not To Proceed With High-Speed Rail In Florida

“You Lie!”

Sen. Mike Fasano says that Florida 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes “lied” when faced with tough questions about the brand new $50 million dollar “Taj Mahal” courthouse in Tallahassee.

Former Lobbyist And State Legislator David Bitner Elected As New Florida GOP Chair

New RNC Chairman Reince Priebus To Clean Up 2012 GOP Tampa Convention Mess

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Yesterday’s New York Times published an editorial on last Tuesday’s election results. While most of the “Monday morning quarterback” analysis of the election has been to focus on the Republicans gaining a majority in the House, the editorial focused more on state elections, and for good reasons.

State elections got less attention in the media before the election and they may well slip under the radar now. But they shouldn’t.

For starters, statewide elections were extremely important for one simple reason: redistricting. This cycle showed a big push to elect Republican governors that would allow Republicans to redraw districts which will be more favorable to.. (Surprise!) Republicans, and the push was successful. They gained 10 Republican governors seats, and they are now in control of 20 states compared to the previous number of nine.

From the Times editorial:

The changes in state government will have another long-term effect as states begin the redistricting process to comply with the population changes documented in the 2010 census. This means that Republicans will be in a position to consolidate this year’s gains by redrawing Congressional and state legislative district lines to their advantage.

Sound familiar? It should. Last week Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendments 5 and 6, which will prevent districts from being redrawn unfairly to the advantage of Republicans. More importantly, when the state legislature tried to undercut them with Amendment 7 last July, it was thrown off the ballot because it was misleading to voters, which of course, was the entire point of Amendment 7 in the first place.

When Amendments 5 and 6 passed last week, the will of the people won out. Unfortunately, the day after the election, a suit was already being filed to undo Amendment 6, which would declare it invalid and prevent it from being enforced. Amendment 6 sets the rules for drawing Florida’s congressional districts.

Today Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolous (R-Merritt Island)) announced that Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) will oversee the redrawing of Florida’s district lines based on the 2010 census.

If the name Gaetz sounds familiar to those who followed the debate over Amendments 5 and 6, the so-called “Fair Districts” amendments limiting the legislature’s ability to gerrymander districts that passed a statewide vote on Nov. 2, that’s because Gaetz’s son, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, was a vocal opponent of 5 and 6.

In the week before the vote on Amendments 5 and 6, Matt penned an op-ed in theNorthwest Florida Daily News, urging readers to vote no on 5 and 6 because they would blunt “the conservative comeback” in Florida. The remarks were unusual, because anti-Fair Districts activists generally preferred to voice their opposition in less explicitly partisan terms. (Even if the Republican Party of Florida did largely fund the organized opposition to 5 and 6.) Matt’s argument was picked up by at least one tea party group, which included his op-ed in an email newsletter.

Voters in Florida may want fair districts, but the Republican controlled legislature is determined to change that as the above examples show.

Then there’s the fact that for some reason, a majority of voters in Florida elected Republican Rick Scott, who was not charged with Medicare fraud, to be their Governor. (But his company Columbia/HCA was fined more that $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. His current company which runs private clinics,  Solantic, is also facing accusations. As Governor, Scott may now appoint the agency head who will be investigating Solantic as well.)

Among the things that Scott ran under during the campaign was his goal of privatizing Medicaid, which would direct recipients to private clinics, like the ones Scott owns. Scott also led the push to defeat President Obama’s health care reform legislation by forming his non-profit organization Conservatives For Patients Rights. Add to that, Florida is also leading the lawsuit against the new health care reform laws filed by Bill McCollum and joined by other states as well. A majority of Florida voters also elected Republican and FOX-GOP spokesmodel Pam Bondi (also brought to you via Sarah Palin’s endorsement) as Attorney General, who vows to continue the fight to strip health care reform away from Floridians who might benefit from it.

Rick Scott also plans to slash spending by cutting government jobs and education, stripping away regulations, eliminating income tax for businesses, reducing property taxes, and many other cuts in order to “run Florida like a business.” (Recall again, Scott oversaw the company with one of the largest fines ever charged in a Medicare fraud case, which he was forced to leave, and so was never himself charged with Medicare fraud.)

Now it remains to be seen which of these goals Scott will actually be able to reach. They are lofty goals indeed and some might even say unrealistic given the realities Florida is facing. Making all of those cuts while promising to add 700,000 jobs at the same time may involve some tricky maneuvers. Scott may well be adept at tricky maneuvers, but it will take some doing in that he faces a veto proof legislature who may have different goals of their own. Campaign promises and wishful thinking don’t count.

Going back to the Times editorial:

There is no way that these newly elected Republican lawmakers and governors can follow through on their promises to erase huge deficits without raising taxes — except by making irresponsibly draconian cuts in critical state services, particularly for the poor and for education.

The states, like the federal government, need to get control of spending. That may mean dealing with out-of-control pensions. It may mean careful cuts in services combined with, yes, higher taxes. But with millions of people out of work, this is the worst possible time for the states to try to solve all their problems by simply slashing health care spending, spending on higher and elementary education, and services for the elderly and the poor. It would lead to tens of thousands of layoffs and even lower state revenues.

Many other states have little left to cut in government services. Nonetheless, as Monica Davey and Michael Luo reported in The Times this week, many newly elected Republican governors say they will balance their budgets that way. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry and several state lawmakers have even floated the idea of dropping out of the Medicaid program and creating a low-cost insurance program for the poor.

That is an irresponsible, and counterproductive, way to try to close the state’s $25 billion deficit. It would mean giving up the federal government’s 60 percent share of the Texas program’s $40 billion annual cost. And for nearly four million participants, it would reduce the level of health care far below a minimum standard.

No matter what the politicians have promised, there is no sound way to balance budgets, protect the most vulnerable people, and the states’ own economies, without some tax increases.

There’s also the matter of the stimulus money, which Florida is getting a big chunk of for high-speed rail projects. Scott has waffled on his support or the lack thereof for high-speed-rail. While other Republican Governors have talked big against the stimulus while accepting those very funds and taking credit for receiving them at the same time, yesterday Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated that any states which refuse to proceed with high-speed rail projects will lose those stimulus funds. If that condition holds true for Florida Scott will have to walk a fine line. If he stands in the way and blocks plans for high-speed rail in Florida, he’ll also be blocking an estimated 23,000 jobs, not to mention stimulating business development that will boost Florida’s economy which is sorely needed.

NY Times:

The Republicans’ big wins in Washington will make the states’ plight even worse. As part of their campaigns, Republican members of Congress have vowed to cut discretionary spending, much of which goes to state capitols. Meanwhile, federal stimulus money — decried by the Republicans — is drying up.

Rick Scott made a lot of big campaign promises to voters, and apparently they believed him, given his history with business and Medicare fraud. He portrayed himself to be an outsider, when in fact he lined up rather quickly with Republican cronies in a now veto proof legislature. He has to keep them and voters happy all at the same time, or risk the wrath of both. That in itself should be interesting to watch.

NY Times:

These highly partisan exercises in self-aggrandizement go on every 10 years, but the unusually large number of states with both Republican legislatures and governorships will sharply reduce the ability of Democrats to bring a little balance to the process.

States have long been in the paradoxical position of being closer to the lives of voters than the federal government, while receiving far less scrutiny and attention. But if Republicans begin abusing the privilege they have been handed, imposing unconscionable cuts and claiming an unfair partisan advantage, they may find the public’s outrage turning back on them in a hurry.

In Florida it’s in fact quite safe to say that Republicans will “begin abusing the privilege they have been handed.” They already have. They began abusing that privilege in less than 24 hours after the election last Tuesday by filing suit against Amendment 6, which will go against the will of the voters and stack the deck against them and in favor of Republican lawmakers.

All this before Governor elect Rick Scott, who was never charged with Medicare fraud, is even sworn in.

So I have to ask those voters who chose Rick Scott a question: I know it’s early, but has “voters remorse” started to kick in yet?

 

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Yesterday they were in line as early as 5 am hoping to get one of 1,000 tickets to be handed out. The tickets were gone within a half an hour. This morning, the first person to arrive was there at 1:30 am just to get a place in line. The lines grew three to four people wide, and after a long wait, the lucky ones got in, while others many others were turned away.

They were gathered at the University of Tampa Martinez Sports Center waiting to see President Barack Obama who would make the announcement that Florida would be receiving a portion of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for the Florida High-Speed Rail project. Obama spoke briefly about the funding during his State Of The Union address last night.

Florida will receive $1.25 billion for the first phase of the project which will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The state will receive only half of the amount originally requested. The line will run between Tampa and Orlando along the I-4 corridor and the project is expected to create 23,000 jobs and stimulate business development that will help boost Florida’s struggling economy.

Florida High-Speed Rail Proposed Routes

The President and Vice President flew to MacDill Air Force Base before heading to the town hall in Tampa. They were greeted by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who decided at the last minute to meet Obama there. (He did not attend the town hall for the announcement, nor did his GOP opponent Marco Rubio. They both oppose the funding for the project.)

Also greeting them with Crist were state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Col. Larry Martin, MacDill Wing Commander.

Traveling with Obama and Biden on Air Force One were U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.

Upon arriving at The University Of Tampa, they were joined by the University President Dr. Ronald L. Vaughn. Vice President Biden spoke briefly about the rail project before introducing President Obama.

Before addressing the crowd of about 3,000, Obama made introductions for all those who traveled with him.

He also introduced former Coach of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy who got a standing ovation. He wasn’t the only one. Obama also introduced the crowd to Tampa Fire Rescue Lt.’s Roger Picard and Brian Smithey, members of the department’s canine search and rescue team. Both recently returned from Haiti, where they took part in the search and rescue and saved seven lives.

“Job Creation The Number One Priority”

President Obama spoke and answered questions for about an hour and 20 minutes. The crowd was enthusiastic and at times the cheering was so loud it was hard to hear him speak. Much of the speech echoed what he said the night before during his State of the Union address.

“We ran to get the tough stuff done,” he said. “I make no apology for trying to fix stuff that’s hard.

“Change,” he said, “never comes without a fight.”

“You’re doing a good job,” someone yelled from the crowd.

He said job creation has to be the No. 1 priority in 2010.

“The markets have stabilized,” he said. “The economy is growing again. The worst of the storm is past. But I think all of you understand the devastation remains.”

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m going to come back down here and ride it. … Y’all have a date!”

“I Won’t Stop Fighting”

Obama talked about how good high-speed rail is for the economy, and lifestyles because “people won’t be stuck in traffic for two hours” which drew loud cheers and applause. The Tampa area, as well as the I-4 Corridor has a long history of traffic and construction problems and has long been a headache for commuters. The area near downtown Tampa, where I-275 and I-4 merge, for decades has been referred to by the local commuters as “Malfunction Junction.”

Repeating to a cheering crowd what he said during his presidential campaign:

“Change never comes without a fight. That was true then, it’s true now. …. I won’t stop fighting.”

Wrapping up his speech, Obama said everyone should be ready to roll up their sleeves and play their part in rebuilding America.

As he was ending his speech, a man in the crowd spontaneously shouted: “Yes we can!” Obama stopped, smiled at him, and said “Yes we can!”

Yes we can, indeed.

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Reactions to President Obama’s award of $1.25 billion in stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the Florida high-speed rail project:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL):

“It’s a pretty good start.”

“This will be one of the largest boosts to the state’s economy since Disney, since the interstate highway system,”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa), who is scheduled to fly with Obama from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to MacDill Air Force Base on Air Force One this morning:

“It’s going to be the foundation of a more modern Florida”

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Miami), who will also accompany President Obama to Tampa on Air Force One so far hasn’t issued a statement.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL):

“This is perfect to develop further development tourism, which is the number one industry in Central Florida.”

Republican Marco Rubio, who blasted the use of stimulus money for rail, even though he said he supports the concept, is trying to have it both ways:

“I think we should all be concerned about increased spending on anything at a time when the federal government is borrowing money to function.”

“I think rail is good for Florida. I think the federal government  spending money you don’t have is bad for America,” Rubio told reporters before the event at Film Lounge. “There’s two separate issues there.  There are a lot of good ideas in the world. But you shouldn’t spend money that you don’t have. That’s our concern, the concern quite frankly is how much of this money is borrowed money, is it money that we’re printing or money we’re borrowing from the Chinese?”

Gov. Charlie Crist, who first said he would not be meeting with President Obama at the own hall because he would be “elsewhere,” then said he would meet him if the logistics worked out (Crist would also be in Tampa at The University of South Florida, a few miles away), waited until the last minute before announcing he would meet the President when he arrived on Air Force One. He gave this reason for the meeting:

“To express to him my disappointment that there hasn’t been more bipartisanship on his behalf, which is what he talked about a lot last year.”

Crist’s statement on the high-speed rail funds:

“It means tens of thousands of jobs at a time when we need it most,” Crist said. “It’s a great win for Florida. It’s why we held a special session (on SunRail) — to create jobs for Florida.”

Alex Sink, Florida CFO and Democratic candidate for Governor, who will appear with the President (from Sink’s press advisory):

Sink “has been a tireless advocate for the comprehensive development of high-speed and commuter rail in Florida,” including meeting last year with Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo to seek federal funding, and sponsoring the Florida Cabinet resolution urging the administration to fund Florida’s rail applications.

Florida Attorney General, and Republican candidate for Governor Bill McCollum will not be appearing or meeting with the President:

McCollum will not be on the scene tomorrow, despite his strong support for high-speed rail and backing last year for SunRail, he said today.
Why? Schedule conflict, he said—he didn’t know Obama was coming.

“I’m frankly going to be here for Enterprise Florida, so I’m not planning to be there in Tampa; I didn’t know the President was going to be there. And since I’m going on the board tomorrow—I’ve been invited to be a board member … I plan to be here. I think growing jobs is important, and I’ve planned on that for some weeks now.”

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